When owners Vanessa and Ron Wilkerson were opening Samba Rock Acai Café, they encountered many roadblocks along the way. For instance, the city assessed there would be a $30,000 traffic-impact fee for their restaurant. So the duo improvised. They built an indoor bike parking area, reducing the fee while still providing customers a place to park their wheels. This is just one example in which Ron has defied what some might see as a career-ending set-back. In 1988, the former professional BMX Freestyle rider fell into a coma after failing to land a no-hander, no-footer trick on his bike. Though some might have given up after a life-threatening experience like that—he suffered short-term memory loss and even forgot some of the BMX tricks that he had pioneered—Ron got back on his bike. And if he hadn’t, he would never have traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil, met Vanessa, married her, or opened Samba Rock Acai Café.
The menu at Samba Rock Acai Café pays homage to the country where the Wilkersons met and where Vanessa grew up. Blended Brazilian berries and mix-ins, such as bananas and peanut butter, make up the base for their acai bowls. They crown this base with toppings such as fresh fruit, avocado, coconut cream, and granola. Their smoothies also feature acai, as well as organic ingredients, which have never been tainted by spray tanners to look more appealing to customers. To round out their South American-inspired menu, they serve yerba mate—steeped leaves of the mate plant—with acai to sweeten each sip.
Samba's menu spans continents, uniting dishes toasted over the leaping flames of a Brazilian grill with those cooked in the heated clay interior of a tandoor oven. Samba's signature rodizio dinners deliver skewered meats to tables, where they are carved by servers directly onto diners' plates. Picanha, a cut of beef, is a popular choice. For those who would rather not indulge in the all-you-can-eat option, the picanha burger?covered in mozzarella, grilled mushrooms, and peppers?offers a taste of the Brazilian beef.
Indian offerings include seven types of naan bread, chicken tikka masala, and biryani rice entrees. Samba serves Mediterranean as well, from hummus appetizers to shish kebab lunches and pizzas dotted with feta cheese.
Though the food comes from various regions, the venue positions diners under the same sky?or at least a ceiling charmingly painted to mimic the clouds. Samba also celebrates birthdays with exceptional fanfare: drums, tambourines, and song, instead of the traditional treat of fine-dining establishments, a lobster clutching candles in its claws. This excitement also extends to the upcoming 2014 World Cup beginning in June, during which the restaurant will air the contests with a family-friendly atmosphere.
When the Monterey County Herald's Sam Laage stopped by Dishes Bistro & Grill in September 2013, he said in a review that places such as Dishes prove that if you cook good food, have good service, and offer a comfortable atmosphere, people will come to you no matter where you are. Laage was perhaps most impressed by the Italian-style food at Dishes. He said the roasted medallions of pork tenderloin were "fork-tender but satisfyingly chewy" and called the oniony marmalade "inspired." One member of Laage's party was vegetarian and opted for one of the restaurant's vegetarian dishes, the ravioli al pesto, which Laage sampled and declared to have an "expertly balanced sauce."
Laage loved his food and the experience so much that he came back for a second visit. This time, he got to try the fresh blackened halibut and said "my mouth came alive with one taste." His final conclusion? "Do yourself a favor, check them out. GO!"
The black-and-white photographs lining Alvarado Fish & Steak House's dining room aren't the only way the DiGirolamos show pride in their family history. With its delicate fusion of Italian and Japanese flavors, the menu too speaks of their distinctive heritage. Mediterranean classics?including chicken marsala and homemade linguine?appear alongside Pacific influences such as the teriyaki in the skirt steak's marinade or the splash of sake sweetening the mussels' spicy marinara sauce. This subtle fusion even shows up in the drink menu, which features soju-based margaritas as well as bottled brews from Italy's famous wine geysers.
At Vino Prima, the wine pours freely. Surrounded by 360-degree views of the Santa Cruz wharf and sparkling lights of the boardwalk, patrons soak in the views as they sip their choice of wine by the flight or glass, with a rotating selection of 30 wines pouring daily. Enclosed in their protective casings, more than 150 boutique wines are also available by the bottle, which can later be filled with a miniature version of your favorite 14th-century shipwreck. On some weekends, belly dancing and live-music sessions create a lively atmosphere to complement the always-flowing libations.